To understand Pittsburgh Pirates fans, one must first understand "Gilligan's Island.''
Pitchers and catchers report today to the Pirates' camp in Bradenton, Fla. It's a climate similar to that uncharted desert isle of TV fame, where manager Clint Hurdle must begin a task as daunting as that faced so often by The Professor.
That is to sift through all the flotsam and jetsam and C-list guest stars that have floated his way and figure a way to make a radio out of a coconut.
Our Pirates' island is a uniquely troubled outpost in baseball's backwaters, carrying the indignity of the unfortunate phrase "the most consecutive losing seasons in the history of professional sports." That's a mouthful, so let's call it the Isle of Mocon-Losea for short.
"Gilligan's Island'' lasted only three seasons, with 98 episodes, but the reruns never die. Pirates fans likewise are preparing to watch what is almost surely our 20th consecutive losing season (with 162 nine-inning episodes) because what floated toward Mocon-Losea over the winter doesn't look like it can fix the boat.
There's Rod Barajas, a 36-year-old catcher reminiscent of aviator Wrong Way Feldman from the first Gilligan season. Feldman was famous for flying his plane, "The Spirit of the Bronx,'' non-stop from Chicago to New Orleans -- when he was supposed to be flying to Minneapolis.
Barajas has similar difficulty finding first base. His career on-base average is .284 in a league where the average player -- including pitchers -- checks in at .319.
Then there's Nate McLouth. He was an All-Star for the Pirates in 2008, before they traded him to Atlanta in 2009, where he foundered. Now McLouth is 30 and a Pirate again, but I fear this could be one of those episodes where an evil twin shows up on the island.
That not only happened to three of the seven castaways -- Gilligan, Ginger and Thurston Howell III; most Pirates fans can remember the creepy 2006 episode, "The Return of Joe Randa.'' (Couldn't be the same guy from nine seasons before, it just couldn't!)
No, if there is one constant on both islands it is continual visits by people who do nothing to help. "Gilligan's Island'' had Russian cosmonauts, a Japanese submarine sailor, a surfer, a jungle boy and countless white actors pretending to be Polynesian.
The island of Mocon-Losea has attracted has-beens, never-wuzzes, sore-armed pitchers, empty-headed shortstops, a skinny-dipping mascot, a closet bigamist, a fat first baseman who couldn't hit anything but a running sausage, three Browns, three Smiths, three Wilsons, two LaRoches and two Redmans, but no winning teams.
Not that there haven't been good times. As on "Gilligan's Island," the dream sequences have been memorable. I loved the one last summer that found the Pirates tied for first place after 100 games. Then some idiot woke up the Pirates and reminded them what jerseys they were wearing. They won exactly 19 of the next 62.
We still tune in, though, and this is the time of the year when the lure is exactly the same as that of "Gilligan's Island'': camp appeal. We Pirates fans hunger for hope like Gilligan craved Mary Ann's coconut cream pies. (I was a Mary Ann man, not a Ginger guy. You?) We're actually encouraged that the Pirates just picked up a 35-year-old pitcher whom the Yankees were eager to dump.
Can A.J. Burnett patch the hole in the S.S. Nutting? The Pirates pitching staff still looks almost as thin as Gilligan, but we in chronic fandom are resuming training, too, attaching dusty cliches to new players.
Less body fat! Look for Casey McGehee to have a comeback year!
More veteran presence! Clint Barmes knows how the game is supposed to be played!
Stranded on the same island with Wrong Way Feldman! Oh, we sure are lucky!
Oops. Sorry. Sometimes I get the shows confused. Anyway, if there's anyone I'd like to see on the PNC Park diamond this season, it's Russell "The Professor'' Johnson, the last surviving male cast member of the show, to throw out the first ball. Or maybe we could get Tina "Ginger Grant'' Louise, who turned 78 only eight days ago.
Say, does anyone know if she's a lefty?
This could be the year we finally get off our island and, if it isn't, we can take solace from Wrong Way Feldman. He explained long ago how to survive decades without rescue:
"Physical fitness, iron will, perseverance and 64 bottles of Scotch."
Brian O'Neill: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1947.